Hello! magazine chief technical officer Andrew Macharg, who joined in February last year from Dennis, has spoken in depth about the brand’s digital transformation.
He said he found a publisher whose tech stack was old, disjointed and unautomated, with a CMS hosted and supported on the premises.
“It’s very expensive to maintain,” Macharg said. “We’ve got four engineers – all they do is pull out discs and put new discs in to make sure the network is working.”
Hello! is a globally recognised brand famous for its access to high society. The weekly celebrity lifestyle magazine arrived in the UK in 1988 from Spain, where Hola! magazine has been in print since its creation in 1944. In 2000, Hola.com was launched, followed a year later by hellomagazine.com.
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Both titles are owned by Spanish publisher Groupo Hola. Although the group has a strong print tradition, Macharg said its two websites attract about 85m unique users a month, with a guiding metric for Hello! of about a million daily unique users for the UK and again for the US.
But Macharg said the digital operation had been running without a technical ‘North Star’. “For the 20-odd years we’ve been online, we’ve just had an audience,” he said. “We get lots of people, they enjoy the website, but we haven’t focused enough on outcomes such as : ‘What is the technical strategy? What are we trying to achieve?’ So we’re trying to rethink now what that looks like.”
“What we’ve had to do is modernise,” said Macharg, who’s chosen Glide Publishing Platform, which offers a cloud-based software-as-a-service CMS for publishers, as the solution.
“In Hello! and Hola! we have two CMSs at the minute and actually Hola! uses two CMSs to publish content. One’s bought, one’s custom built. Absolute nightmare.
“So ideas in my head were: how do we simplify? How do we make things easy to move forward? For us, it’s going be a built CMS. It takes out a load of the complexity, we don’t think about upgrades and I can really concentrate, as a publisher, on what we do best: we write content.”
At the heart of Hello!’s tech stack transformation has been a focus on editorial.
“Editorial… is in some ways our number one audience that we need to look after,” said Macharg. “If an editor can’t write content quickly and get it out quickly then something is very wrong. That then became very important in our decision-making for our CMS.”
He added: “I wanted to give our editors the ability just to write a piece of content, tag it and just forget about it. They don’t need to think about where it’s going to go. Is it going to be syndicated? Is it going to be on this page or that page?
“Just write your content, in the format that the editorial team want and forget about it.”
In choosing a new CMS, Macharg, who has built CMSs, as well as worked with open-source and paid-for solutions during his career, said he “wanted a hosting environment out of a box”.
“For me, I don’t want to have to have an engineering team that’s supporting WordPress or Drupal or content for all those guys. I just want us to concentrate on what we’re really good at, and that’s content and getting that content out. Why go through that extra effort?”
On the benefit of an out-of-the-box solution, Glide chief executive Denis Haman, also speaking at the conference, said: “If you’re a sushi chef you wouldn’t buy a Swiss army knife, then spend your time pulling things apart and honing it so you can get a sushi knife. You’d buy a sushi knife. What we provide is a very focused editorial platform, as opposed to a generic CMS that you have to beat into shape.”
Ongoing changes to Hello!’s website include putting up a registration paywall, automating ad placement within articles and sections, and being able to control the density of advertising.
But it is “recirculation” that Macharg said is “the thing that everybody is missing the trick on right now”. Recirculation is a metric measuring how many readers are on a page compared to the number clicking off. A successful recirculation strategy helps to keep readers on the website by giving them more opportunities to engage with it through clicks and avoiding leading them to so-called “content deserts” or dead-ends that would interrupt their experience and ultimately see them leave.
Reflecting on Hello!’s digital publishing transformation, Macharg said: “We’ve gone from a place where it’s very manual, to hopefully a very automated platform that will allow this brand that has this huge audience to go to the next level over the next few years.”
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